Be age-friendly to be sustainable

Four older men wearing hats sit at a square table in the park.The key to sustainable cities is to make them age-friendly, to work collaboratively across city departments, and to engage all ages in consultations. This is because older people risk exclusion from social and economic life if we keep designing cities in the same way. 

The latest policy brief on ageing from the UN group in Europe focuses on housing, access to green and public spaces, and transportation. The policy brief also looks at how smart technologies can be leveraged to improve the situation.

Mainstreaming ageing, gender, disability and human rights in urban planning is the key. Involving all generations for a people-centred approach, and not working in silos are also important. These are all elements of a universal design approach.

The document links with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 11). That is, to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It also references the WHO Age-friendly cities and communities guidelines, and the New Urban Agenda

Each section on housing, green spaces and public places, and transport address the issues in more detail. A lengthy document which should be of interest to policy makers and urban planners working at all levels. The media release is a shorter, easier read. 

The policy brief is from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. There are more policy briefs to browse on their website. 

 

Urban Planning and Coronavirus

Aerial view of a major intersection in the Melbourne CBD.The daily disadvantage of marginalised groups is more clearly revealed as others fall into the ranks of disadvantage during this pandemic.  A discussion paper from Berkeley argues that this current pandemic is an opportunity to consider similar urban health reforms that followed previous epidemics. Promoting inclusive and healthy cities for all is the bottom line in this thoughtful discussion.

The discussion paper takes the perspective of people with functional limitations. For many people worldwide, disability is about health, human rights, and poverty. It’s an urban development issue and time to move from the medical model to the social model of disability. Also discussed are how people with disability are left out of economic responses, such as one-off support payments, and not included in planning to prevent future crises. The authors provide recommendations for how this pandemic can best support people with disability and how this makes cities healthier for all. They warn that pandemics also run the risk of exacerbating further marginalisation through racism and segregation. The abstract below is the essence of the paper.

The title of the paper is, Disability, Urban Health Equity, and the Coronavirus Pandemic: Promoting Cities for All

Abstract: Persons with disabilities (PWDs) living in cities during the COVID-19 pandemic response may be four times more likely to be injured or die than non-disabled persons, not because of their “vulnerable” position but because urban health policy, planning and practice has not considered their needs. In this article, the adverse health impacts on PWDs during the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the “everyday emergencies” in cities for PWDs and that these can be avoided through more inclusive community planning, a whole-of-government commitment to equal access, and implementation of universal design strategies. Importantly, COVID-19 can place PWDs at a higher risk of infection since some may already have compromised immune and respiratory systems and policy responses, such as social distancing, can lead to life-threatening disruptions in care for those that rely on home heath or personal assistants. Living in cities may already present health-damaging challenges for PWDs, such as through lack of access to services and employment, physical barriers on streets and transportation, and smart-city technologies that are not made universally accessible. We suggest that the current pandemic be viewed as an opportunity for significant urban health reforms on the scale of the sanitary and governance reforms that followed ninetieth century urban epidemics. This perspective offers insights for ensuring the twenty-first century response to COVID-19 focuses on promoting more inclusive and healthy cities for all.

Active Living Resources

Banner for Active Living NSW showing a beach scene and people walking on a tree lined promenade.The life of Active Living NSW has come to an end. Consequently, on 2 May, their website will be decommissioned. However, their resources are available on other websites. They are listed below for easy access, or you can download the PDF version of the list. Many resources are recent publications. All resources should be read with universal design and inclusion in mind. We cannot be active without an accessible built environment designed for everyone. 

Healthy Active by Design Website publications

All Heart Foundation built environment resources are available on the Heart Foundation website.

Australian Capital Territory

South Australia

If you would like a hard copy of a South Australian resource for professional practice, please send your details to the Senior Policy Advisor at sa@heartfoundation.org.au  

Green Open Space

When looking to improve streets the best return comes from urban trees and other greenery through their co-benefits for health, cooling, amenity and the environment.

Northern Territory

New South Wales

The scorecard and priority recommendations for Sydney builds upon the first baseline measure of liveability in Australia’s state and territory capitals, presented in Creating Liveable Cities in Australia.

This series of resources was developed for the NSW planning system by the Healthy Planning Expert Working Group between 2018-2019. Heart Foundation provides the secretariat function of this group. 

A baseline study of Healthy Eating and Active Living within NSW Local Government Community Strategic Plans and selected Delivery Programs

Western Australia

The Western Australian report reviews State Government liveability policies in Perth using a scorecard system to indicate where the city is meeting, exceeding, on par, or falling below its policy targets.

Queensland

The housing timebomb is ticking

Graphic of a stylised house with red roof set on grass with a tree.Australia isn’t the only place where a change to home design is being demanded by various advocacy groups and social policy organisations. The HoMe Coalition in the UK is making similar demands for all new homes to be accessible for everyone. The UK experience with accessibility as Part M of the building code shows how the absolute minimum, that is a level entry and a toilet on the ground floor, is insufficient for being able to live safely and comfortably as people age. So a review is needed.

Anna Dixon, chief executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, which co-chairs the coalition, said: 

“Too many people are today living in homes that limit their independence, as we face a dangerous shortage of homes that are accessible and adaptable. While it’s not inevitable, the likelihood is that most of us will experience disability or difficulties with activities of daily living at some point in our later life. And with more of us living for longer, this dire lack of accessible homes represents a ticking timebomb.”

Dixon also said that keeping people safe at home means we need homes with accessible features. It prevents avoidable admissions to hospital and institutional care: “Every £1 spent on housing adaptations are worth more than £2 in care savings and quality of life gains.” 

HoME (Housing Made for Everyone) is predicting a “dangerous shortage” of suitable homes in the future, with only one new accessible home to be built for every 15 people over the age of 65 by 2030. And that’s in urban areas – it’s much less in rural areas. HoME has an Accessible Housing Charter with seven actions including all new homes to be accessible .

See also briefing paper: Homes and ageing in England by the department of public health. At the end it has case studies that show the costs and savings of doing renovations.

Creating Safe Space for Everyone

A street scene showing a wide footpath and a row of shops in the suburbsHow many urban planners think about accessibility and disability from the outset? Some, no doubt. Urban planners also have to think about personal safety – it’s a core concern. But what about safety for people with disability? Do community norms play a role in design decisions? An article in The Conversation discusses this issue and begins:

“Creating safe and secure urban spaces is a core concern for city managers, urban planners and policy workers. Safety is a slippery concept to pin down, not least because it is a subjective experience. It incorporates our perceptions of places and memories, but also norms in society about who is expected to use spaces in the city, and who is considered to be out of place.”

So it is much more than designing out crime. Different population groups experience safety in different ways – much more nuanced that matching with crime statistics. A study from the University College Cork has looking at this issue in more detail. An overview is in an article in The Conversation by Claire Edwards.

The study looked at three cities in Ireland and some obvious places where people with disability felt unsafe were transport hubs, bars and shopping centres. The Conversation article concludes:

“Urban safety is as much about changing social relations as it is about technical fixes. Disabled people’s experiences show us that it is only by challenging assumptions about who has a right to inhabit urban space that we can create more inclusive, just and safer societies.”

The title of the article is, The experiences of people with disabilities show we need a new understanding of urban safety.  

 

Age Friendly Cities: Manchester and Brussels

A city square in Belgium showing heritage architecture. People are milling about in the square.The WHO Age Friendly Cities and Communities framework remains a robust method for creating age-friendly places. We can learn a lot from cities that signed up to the WHO Global Network that began in 2007. A book chapter comparing Brussels and Manchester shows that different policy approaches result in quite different outcomes.

The first part of the chapter covers introductory material and detail about the 8 domains of the WHO program. The interesting part, especially for local government, is the comparison of approaches and outcomes for Brussels and Manchester. Brussels, for example, focused on social housing for older people and street safety. Manchester focused on lifetime neighbourhoods and quality of life. Manchester was more inclusive of different ethnic backgrounds than Brussels which also has a diverse population. In short, Brussels was about keeping people safe, and Manchester was about living life. The paper goes on to discuss the barriers to implementing the programme and developing age-friendly policies.
There are some good recommendations at the end of this paper which was published in 2015. 

The chapter title is, Developing Age-Friendly Cities: Case Studies from Brussels and Manchester and Implications for Policy and Practice. It begins on page 277.This chapter is one of several interesting papers in Environmental Gerontology in Europe and Latin America.  

 

Liveable, accessible, sustainable and biophilic: which to choose?

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands.The main aspects of sustainability – social, economic, cultural and environmental – are all opportunities for designers. But what to consider and how to design? An article focusing on ageing populations looks at design for all, universal design, inclusive design, human centred design, and biophilic design. The authors conclude that universal design and biophilic design create the best outcomes.

The article covers many of the well known facts in this field of research, and addresses the different design approaches and terminology. The concept of “sustainable ageing” is discussed in terms of well-being, economic inclusion and the living environment.  After examining all the different approaches the authors conclude:

“However, considering the sustainability requirements, including the circular economy and social cohesion aspects, the most adequate and flexible approach is the universal design concept. The universal design concept, encouraging diversity of users and social integration, is favorable for the implementation of healthy aging and active aging concepts. Moreover, universal design is applicable in the aging at home concept: the design solutions of buildings and environment can be from the start adapted to the needs of the elderly, avoiding the necessity of further reconstructions as the users age.”

A graphic showing a Venn diagram with sustainable ageing in the centre. It is overlapped by social, environmental and economic sustainability.

The title of the article is, “Aging, Living Environment, and Sustainability: What Should be Taken into Account?  it is a well considered discussion that draws together the many approaches to designing for a diverse population. 

Graphic showing the links between environmental, social and econocmic sustainability to create a suitable living environment for older people.

Abstract: The aging population presents numerous challenges and the design and management of living environments are not an exception. This literature review and analysis brings together topics related to the living environment of the aging population and the concept of sustainability. The article presents the review of the existing design concepts that are applied to planning the environment for the elderly, including (i) design for all, (ii) universal design, and (iii) inclusive design. Furthermore, this review highlights the aspects of sustainability and the peculiarities of the aging population that should be taken into account in the design and management of their living environment. Key points related to sustainable aging are highlighted, and the possibility of complementing the existing design concepts with the concept of biophilic design is proposed in order to strengthen their social, psychological, and ecological aspects.

The graphics are reproduced from the article.

Home for Good

A vase of purple and white flowers sits on a small table with a cup of tea, an open book and a pair of glasses.What is a home? It’s so much more than a shelter from the elements. The concept of home gives us a place in the world. It underpins our identity, our relationships and our understanding of who we are and where we fit in the scheme of things. It is intrinsic to the human condition.Yet it is overlooked in the development of policies to support housing provision.

Home for Good is a policy brief “intended to restore the idea of home as both a psychological and social asset to our discourse on housing, rather than just a financial asset. It is specifically concerned with the role of the home as we age, positing that successful ageing is dependent on a person’s access to a home that provides security, community, safety and autonomy”. The policy brief poses a policy framework for a national approach to providing older Australians with homes that meet their social, emotional, environmental, and psychological needs.

The policy brief says nothing about the design of homes, but it does tap into the real meaning of home for many older people – the social equity. Hence the reticence to move to age segregated living. The article can be downloaded from the Analysis & Policy Observatory. It’s by Emma Dawson and Myfan Jordan of Per Capita. Easy to read.

 

A non-Western look at inclusive cities

The very tall tower buildings form the city skyline in Dubai.The story of Dubai, as with any living city, continues to be written day by day. And that includes disability rights and inclusion. “Building the Inclusive City: Governance, Access and the Urban Transformation of Dubai” is a book that provides a contemporary history of disability in city planning from a non-Western perspective. From the abstract:

“Three insights inform the author’s approach. First, disability research, much like other urban or social issues, must be situated in a particular place. Second, access and inclusion forms a key part of both local and global planning issues. Third, a 21st century planning education should take access and inclusion into consideration by applying a disability lens to the empirical, methodological, and theoretical advances of the field. By bridging theory and practice, this book provides new insights on inclusive city planning and comparative urban theory. This book should be read as part of a larger struggle to define and assert access; it’s a story of how equity and justice are central themes in building the cities of the future and of today.”

Building the Inclusive City: Governance, Access and the Urban Transformation of Dubai by Victor Santiago Pineda is available for purchase in the usual places, but is also available as open access on ResearchGate

Editor’s note: I travelled to Dubai in 2015 and found much of the new infrastructure very accessible. I was impressed with the air conditioned bus stop shelters. 

See here: I want to go shopping

A close up of cakes, bread and buns in a bakery shop.Shopping is a common human activity. It gets us out of the house and mobilising. It helps connect us to our neighbourhood. But the shopping experience of people with vision impairment is another matter. They are limited to familiar places where they can confidently and independently purchase what they need. This means there are no spontaneous shopping choices. So is this good for retail business and the private market?

The “blind district” of Lithuania is a place created during Soviet rule. It provides fertile ground for research on this topic. It also allows comparison with other parts of the city and the differences in shopping experiences by people with vision impairment. An article published in the Journal of Public Space covers the history of the blind district, disability rights, participation in the market and urban accessibility. The second half of the article is where the research project appears. A novel approach to this topic.

The title of the article is, When Accessibility of Public Space Excludes: Shopping experience of people with vision impairments. by Ieva Eskyté, University of Leeds.

Abstract  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) recognises access to consumer goods and services in the mainstream private market as essential for full participation in society. Nevertheless, people with impairments rarely enjoy the same rights and consumer experience as non-disabled individuals. This paper argues that (in)accessibility of public space is an important factor shaping how accessible the private market is for people who do not ‘fit’ conventional norms and standards. It demonstrates how category-driven accessibility provisions in some geographical areas and not in others segregate disabled people within certain providers, create social and consumer isolation, and become a marker that accentuates difference and separation between disabled consumers who live in accessible districts, and the rest of the population. To illustrate the case, the paper uses empirical evidence from mystery shopping in retail outlets and qualitative interviews with people with vision impairments who live in the ‘Blind district’ in Lithuania. The district was developed by the Soviet Union (1949-1990) to boost people with vision impairments’ participation in the socialist labour market economy.